DIARY – AINTREE FESTIVAL
FRIDAY 05 APRIL 2013
Sprinter Sacre returns having won the Grade 1 Melling Chase
After a not so good Cheltenham Festival this year, with Choc absent due to injury, three weeks later it was time for me to set off to Aintree’s Grand National fixture. I was not looking forward to my trip; as Choc was still out of action having re-broken his upper right arm on 04 March.
I’d been to the Grand National every year since 2009; attending both the Friday and the Saturday of the fixture on each occasion. 2013 was intended to be the first time I’d purchased a ticket for each of the three days, hoping to see more of Choc. In 2010 and 2012 I’d solely seen him on Ladies Day, as he hadn’t ridden at Aintree on the Saturday, instead travelling to Chepstow to ride. This year I was determined to see him for at least two days, before fate had intervened.
So I decided to partly cut my losses, before Easter I cancelled my hotel accommodation for the Thursday evening, but retained Friday night’s booking; my trip would be two days in duration, as usual. I’d booked Wednesday to Friday as leave from work but I didn’t change my plans for these.
The 2013 Cheltenham Festival had been the coldest that I’d experienced to date, and I was hoping the weather would improve by Aintree ... but no such luck. In fact the weekend before Easter (8 days after the Cheltenham Festival) it had snowed, with the white stuff settling on the ground too. Race fixtures were lost, including Newbury’s final National Hunt race day of the season, and the Lincoln Handicap at Doncaster; although the latter was re-scheduled and subsequently run on Easter Saturday instead.
The writing of my Cheltenham diaries had progressed well this year; I’d taken time out to visit my friend Denise in Caversham on Good Friday; we had planned to attend Lambourn’s Open Day but that was cancelled due to the water-logging of the car parks. Although, in the event, she’d succumbed to tonsillitis and a bad foot (possibly a stress fracture according to her doctor) so I would have had to attend alone had it gone ahead.
Denise has discovered a new hobby – making jewellery using polymer clay. She had attended a course in Henley the previous Saturday and showed me the items she’d made that day, including three ‘seaside’ themed pendants. I admired her handiwork and she let me chose a pendant to bring home; I strung it on a necklace of glass beads and have added it to my extensive home-made jewellery collection. It was admired by my manager at work when I wore it too. I knew exactly what to buy Denise for her birthday in June.
The remaining three days of the Easter holidays I’d spent working on my diaries and, by the time I returned to work on the Tuesday ahead of my Aintree trip, I’d completed Day One and Day Four thereof. But I was not satisfied to leave it there, so I also spent Tuesday evening and most of Wednesday writing and successfully completed Day Two. That left me with solely Day Three to complete, and I’d already topped and tailed that.
I drove down to the local retail park on Wednesday morning; to buy some last minute items from Boots, and to see if they had in stock any new bras which I might like, and which would fit me too! I found three. I know I’ve put on weight, but I’m sure the size labelling is getting smaller, because I ended up buying one 38G and two 38GG. I know I carry my excess weight on my stomach and boobs, but that is ridiculous!
Although I now have a smart-phone (finally!), I’ve retained my old Nokia Pay-As-You-Go phone too. In recent weeks and months, I’ve experienced problems charging it; although I think this was just as much a charger issue as a battery issue because it all seemed to depend upon the plug socket and the angle at which I rested the phone whilst charging it! So I ordered a new charger and battery just days before Aintree, via Amazon; being almost obsolete items, they cost in total only around £7.00, including postage. Fortunately both of these items arrived in time for me to take the phone to Aintree, along with my smart-phone.
You will know my mindset when I tell you that I didn’t start packing until Wednesday, which isn’t like me at all. And most of my packing was actually done on Thursday. My handbag usually contains everything including the kitchen sink, as does my trolley suitcase; with items overflowing into a couple of shopping bags too. I never travel light, even when it’s just for two days and one night! However this year there was no change to the contents of my handbag, but there was room in my suitcase for all but emergency food rations.
I spent Thursday afternoon watching the racing from Aintree on TV and writing up an extended blog which included a summary of Choc’s Horse and Hound column, before turning in at 20:15; it took me until after 21:00 to get to sleep because I couldn’t stop thinking about the long drive to Liverpool the following morning. And I almost decided to call off my trip at this point.
I still didn’t settle well, as I woke at 23:45 thinking that it must soon be time to rise! After little more than two more hours sleep I woke again; I glanced at the analogue clock convinced the hands showed it to be 03:00, only to later realise it was only 02:00. Having lain awake for a while I finally dozed off to sleep again to be woken by my alarm clock at 03:30.
Time for action; I showed, washed and dried my hair before eating a breakfast of Weetabix and two slices of white toast and butter. I then applied my make-up before I got dressed.
My outfit today was a black thermal vest, purple long-sleeved thermal vest, black long-sleeved thermal vest, cerise frill-edged cardigan, black plain cardigan, not so new now purple fleece, purple frill-edged cardigan, black gillet, grey 40 denier tights, brown leggings, long black handkerchief hem skirt, black engineer boots, socks, black faux sheepskin coat, black/white horse snood and burgundy M & S scarf. And my Magic Branches necklace.
I then experienced another ‘I don’t want to go’ moment prior to taking my suitcase to the car! But, regardless of my doubts, I set off at 05:40. Despite it being April, the temperature was one degree although, of course, it was early in the morning.
I knew Herts County Council had decided to switch off the street lighting after midnight in order to save money but I didn’t realise that this plan included the busy ring-road; where only road junctions remained lit. It was very eerie driving along the road to join my route to Harpenden. Having reached Harpenden, I turned left through the very exclusive West Common area to arrive at the Redbourn bypass. A right-turn took me to Junction 9 of the M1 motorway, where I joined the northbound carriageway.
Nothing untoward happened during my journey, apart from a near-miss with an object just north of Luton; I think it was an early bird which ‘grazed’ the roof of my car! I tried to keep my speed down as much as possible, rarely venturing into the outside lane; although slow lorries overtaking even slower lorries were a little tiresome at times!
As with all my previous trips to Aintree, my route north took me to Junction 24a, after which I headed westwards along the A50, which bypasses Derby and Uttoxeter to reach Stoke On Trent. Although a dual carriageway, it does provide a welcome break from the monotony of the motorway. There were still traces of snow banked against the hedgerows on the stretch of road past Uttoxeter. My journey plan is to be in Stoke at 08:00 and I was only a matter of minutes behind schedule.
Having reached the outskirts of the City, the A50 consists of underpasses and numerous slip-roads joining from the left. Eventually a traffic light controlled junction is met; a right turn would have taken me to the city centre, I chose to turn left along the A500 which runs down to join the M6 motorway at junction 15, where I joined the northbound carriageway.
There were no traffic problems on this stretch of the motorway, unlike the delays in 2010, and within the hour I’d crossed the Mersey bridge. Shortly afterwards I reached the M62 turning and headed west towards Liverpool. Having left home almost three and a half hours ago, I was now desperate for a wee! My last chance before Aintree is the Burtonwood Services at Junction 8. I also needed to fill up the car’s petrol tank at some point during my trip and this is the ideal opportunity. It was 09:00.
The Service station is actually located next to the eastbound carriageway so, to reach it, I had to take the slip-road, negotiate the roundabout and then head part way down the opposite slip-road before entering the Welcome Break parking area. My first priority was a trip to the loo, so I parked up briefly. Having returned to my car, I drove around to the petrol station to fill my car’s tank, and then returned to the car park once more. I decided to eat three of the cheese rolls which I’d brought with me.
At 09:30 I set off once more; rejoining the M62 and heading towards Liverpool. At Junction 6 I took the slip-road to join the M57 and headed north-westwards to Aintree. At the end of the motorway I turned sharp left and drove down the Ormskirk Road, past the Asda supermarket and under the railway bridge. At the traffic lights I turned left, and drove along Aintree Lane to the Steeplechase car park entrance which, in fact, is the Melling Road which passes almost immediately over the Anchor Bridge spanning the canal.
I waved my parking docket at the stewards patrolling the entrance and they indicated for me to enter. The Melling Road bears slightly to the right after the bridge where it crosses the racecourse; and off to the left is the Steeplechase car park entrance. Cones marked out 3 lanes of queuing traffic, I chose the right-hand one; however, having waited a few minutes in the queue, the security staff gestured for me to re-route to the centre lane to have the contents of my car checked.
This year the checks involved examining the inside of the car, the boot, and under the bonnet. However, the first glitch of the day was when none of the stewards could fully close the bonnet; the catch just would not fasten, nor would it open again either. Having caused a hold-up in the queue, I was then asked to park it over to the side; someone would come to take a look at it. I was not amused.
I waited a few minutes but no-one came to see me, so I decided I’d move my car to the parking area. I was now fuming. Having examined the bonnet, it appeared that the plastic catch was stuck behind the grill with no way of opening the bonnet to release it. Pulling the lever inside the passenger foot-well had no effect either. I stomped back to the area where the stewards had been working and asked if someone could help me get the bonnet closed. Eventually they found a steward and he accompanied me back to my car.
It took the guy around fifteen minutes to fix the problem; he had to unclip the grill to release the catch, and also manipulate the metal jaws which hold the bonnet in place once closed. He asked me to try the foot-well lever again and eventually the bonnet clicked back into place. It would have really hacked me off if I’d had to call out the RAC to sort it out for me; and my membership premium would have increased as a result. My fingers were now a bit oily, so I used some water from an Evian bottle to clean my hands as best I could. Fortunately, I’d already put on the extra layers and my coat before I’d dirtied my fingers.
If the stewards wished to also open the car bonnet the following day I’d have to explain that it was not in my or their interest to do so because they might not be able to fasten it down again!
Having finally solved the issue, at 10:45 I set off to the entrance. On the way, I purchased a race-card - £4.00 today – from one of the girls sitting in the Portakabin beside the roadway in. They didn’t seem to be doing a roaring trade; probably because they appeared reluctant to open the window due to the thoroughly raw wind!
My ticket (number 001 in the Earl of Derby Terrace again this year) was scanned, my ‘kitchen sink’ handbag searched, before I was body scanned too. Having been cleared to enter the racecourse precincts, I walked across the Melling Road, the back straight of the park course, then the all-weather gallop to reach one of the buses which was waiting to take both staff and race-goers to the ‘bus stop’ across from the main grandstands. It was standing room only, and one gentleman offered me his seat; I politely declined. Although it was lovely to be asked, when manners are in such short supply these days!
The bus having reached my destination, I alighted and walked across the green carpet to enter the confines of the grandstands enclosure. I headed along the concourse where bookmakers were beginning to set up their pitches, before showing my badge to gain entry to the adjacent enclosure. I then turned right to pass between the Queen Mother and Earl of Derby stands, to head towards the rear concourse. I briefly popped into the Ladies loo, the one located to the side of the latter stand, to wash the remaining oil from my hands. Task completed, I went to sit on one of the empty benches situated along the side of the rear concourse; my back facing the Parade Ring.
It was cold but, fortunately, the sun was shining. Being Ladies Day, many of the female attendees were dressed up today; many of them appeared not to have taken the prevailing weather conditions into consideration when choosing their outfits. A numberr weren’t even wearing coats ... I’m not sure that hypothermia is a good look! Oh well, no sense, no feeling! The most amusing thing was the height of the girls’ heels, they could barely walk; often their shoes appeared far too big for them, like a child dressing up in her mother’s foot attire! Perhaps they will grow more sensible with age ... if they don’t succumb to cirrhosis of the liver in the meantime!!!
To the rear of the Winners’ Enclosure, there is a large screen upon which is broadcast the pre-race entertainment, such as the Matalan fashion show, and the races during the course of the afternoon. With the Topham Chase being run today, a recording of the 2010 renewal was played late morning; it was Always Waining’s first of three consecutive victories and it was rather sad to hear the names of a number of his rivals that day – Scotsirish, Dooneys Gate and the grey (roan) Pasco. None of whom are with us today; each having lost their lives on the racecourse: Scotsirish in last year’s Cross Country Chase at Cheltenham; Dooneys Gate at Becher’s Brook in the 2011 Grand National and Pasco at Newbury in November 2012.
I must have been tired, as one of the more senior guys tasked with picking rubbish up from the concourse spoke to me, asking if I was dozing off to sleep. I told him I’d risen early this morning as I had to drive up from near London. “A Cockney?” he asked. “No, not quite, from Hertfordshire”, I replied. People often think my local accent is London ... but I was born and bred in St Albans; although it is only a mere 21 miles from the centre of the Capital city (distances being measured from Charing Cross).
I remained sitting on the bench until I decided to head to the Earl of Derby Terrace; it was prior to any of the competitors arriving in the Parade Ring before the first race. The terrace was almost deserted so, as is my preference, I climbed to the top of the steppings to reach a vantage point around one third of the way along the top step. I would remain here until the fourth race of the day, the Topham Chase, had been completed.
Whilst I was waiting for the first race of the day to begin, I noticed Harry Derham return from walking the course with Tom Garner; the latter currently on the sidelines due to a broken left collarbone, a blue sling telling the tale of his recent Haydock Park accident when, short of room, his mount had fallen on the far turn. They were accompanied by a third young jockey but I couldn’t put a name to him!
The starting gate for the first race was at the far corner of the track, the horses initially heading along a short stretch of the course before turning into the home straight with that and one full circuit to travel. The favourite for this race was the Cheltenham Supreme Novices’ Hurdle runner-up, My Tent Or Yours.
Then they were off. The small field was led away by the outsider Brick Red, from Forgotten Voice, My Tent Or Yours and Zuider Zee. Having negotiated the turn into the home straight on the first occasion, the horses headed over the first flight, where My Tent Or Yours slightly skewed in the air. The first two were the most fluent over the next hurdle, AP McCoy’s mount less fluent once again; and he rapped the top of the third flight too.
The horses were taking closer order as they approached the grandstand turn and galloped out into the country for the one and only time; Brick Red still led from Forgotten Voice, My Tent Or Yours and Zuider Zee. The first three cleared the next flight safely, but Denis O’Regan’s mount blundered, the horse’s nose almost hitting the turf and unbalancing the rider for a few strides after too. The four horses continued towards the next.
Zuider Zee dived at this flight too, the orange protector strip dislodged from the hurdle panel as a result. The leader rapped the top of the next but it did not affect his momentum; the other three cleared it without a hitch. The runners then headed into the far turn, in Indian file. My Tent Or Yours cruised up on the outside, overtaking Forgotten Voice as they exited the bend; Zuider Zee in danger of losing touch in rear.
AP’s mount was upsides the long-time leader as they jumped three out; Brick Red making at error at this flight. My Tent Or Yours cruised into a two or three lengths lead as the field headed towards the penultimate flight, although he stuttered slightly before take-off. Forgotten Voice was now in second position, and jumped the hurdle more fluently. In third position, a tired Brick Red made a blunder and Zuider Zee jumped out to his left.
My Tent Or Yours extended his lead heading towards the last, cleared it safely and galloped on to win by 16 lengths at the line. Forgotten Voice blundered at the final flight but retained his partnership with Barry Geraghty to claim 2nd, Zuider Zee kept on to claim 3rd, with Brick Red in 4th. A first and second place for trainer Nicky Henderson.
As mentioned earlier, I remained upon the Earl of Derby terrace after the race, rather than return to the Winners’ Enclosure area to the see the placed horses arrive back.
The starting gate for the next race was at the far end of the home straight, with that and two full circuits to travel. Another small field, but not as small as that contesting the first race! The favourite for this event was the David Pipe-trained grey Dynaste. Donald McCain trainer of Super Duty was in attendance today, but was on crutches having suffered a mishap at home.
Then they were off. The runners were led away by Super Duty, almost upsides to his outside clearing the first fence was Rocky Creek, then the nose-banded Third Intention, Irish raider Sea Of Thunder, Dynaste and visor-wearing Vino Griego. The second fence was an open-ditch, Rocky Creek taking off slightly early and having to reach for it, but encountering no problem as a result.
The runners continued to head down the home straight and cleared the third fence without problem. It was two by two having passed the winning post on the first occasion; Rocky Creek to the outside of Super Duty, Sea Of Thunder to the outside of Third Intention, and Dynaste to the outside of Vino Griego. The horses then headed away from the grandstand area and out into the country.
Super Duty held a one length advantage over Rocky Creek as they cleared the first in the back straight, Third Intention was close behind, with Dynaste having improved his position, in fourth. Vino Griego was in fifth position, with Sea Of Thunder now losing ground on the leaders; his jockey Barry Geraghty already animated and riding him along.
The runners cleared the next fence; again Sea Of Thunder jumped it slowly in rear. The following obstacle was an open-ditch, the five leaders travelling comfortably as a group led by Super Duty and Rocky Creek; Barry Geraghty gave his mount a slap down its neck upon landing but then decided to pull up before the next.
The horses travelled around the top turn, clearing the cross-fence en route; Super Duty led the way, with Third Intention jumping up into second position, Rocky Creek now in third, with Dynaste and Vino Griego close on their heels. One circuit had now been completed.
The runners headed down the home straight for the penultimate time. The Tizzard representative, Third Intention, jumped into the lead over the middle fence in the line, the open-ditch; Joe restraining him once more as they headed to the next, thus permitting Super Duty to go on again. Having cleared the next, the field headed around the grandstand turn once more, the Donald McCain-trained runner at the head of affairs, from Third Intention, Rocky Creek, Vino Griego and Dynaste.
As they galloped away from the stands, Super Duty received a backhander from his jockey, Jason Maguire, but he retained his lead as the runners headed up the back straight for the final time. On the hurdles course, Barry Geraghty could be seen trotting Sea Of Thunder, then walking as the runners passed by, then trotting again as he returned to the stables in the opposite direction.
By the time the remaining runners had reached mid-way in the back straight, both Jason Maguire and Jamie Moore aboard Vino Griego were becoming animated as they began to push their mounts along. The former urged his mount to jump the open-ditch and Super Duty reached for and dived over it. Third Intention was cruising to the long-time leader’s outside, with Dynaste also going well just behind these.
Heading into the far turn, Ruby Walsh pushed his mount to take closer order and was soon upsides Third Intention. Another reminder for Super Duty as they galloped towards the cross-fence; Rocky Creek lost ground in the air at this one, with Ruby pushing him back up into contention as they entered the home straight with just three more fences to jump.
Third Intention jumped into the lead over the third last; he was still on the bit at this stage. Clearing the open-ditch, Dynaste loomed up on his outside to take second position as Super Duty began to fade; Rocky Creek was in fourth with Vino Griego now in rear.
Joe gave his mount a couple of slaps down the neck as they headed for the final obstacle, but Dynaste had him covered and cruised alongside before they reached it. The grey was half a length up as they took off and cleared it with more fluency than his rival; he then pulled away on the run-in to win by 6 lengths at the line.
Dynaste’s jockey, Tom Scudamore, had glanced behind as he approached the winning post, to check there were no dangers; he then stood up in his irons to salute with his whip as he crossed the line. I think he was happy!
Third Intention completed in 2nd, with Rocky Creek 18 lengths back in 3rd, Super Duty 4th and Vino Griego last of the five finishers.
NEWS FROM THE STEWARDS’ ROOM FOLLOWING THE RACE:
Again I remained standing on the Earl Of Derby terrace after the race, rather than return to the Winners’ Enclosure area to the see the placed horses arrive back.
It was now time for today’s star attraction, Sprinter Sacre, to make his appearance; that’s most race-goers’ star attraction, not my particular star attraction today, Walkon, who would be running in race four, the Topham Chase! I prefer my horses to be ‘tryers’ who do their best and hopefully win sometimes, rather than almost perfect superstars!
Also taking part in the next race was Cue Card, winner of this year’s Ryanair Chase (Grade 1) at the Cheltenham Festival. Finian’s Rainbow, winner of last year’s Queen Mother Champion Chase (Grade 1) and this same race in 2012. And one of Ireland’s star chasers, Flemenstar. Making up the numbers were For Non Stop, winner of the Old Roan Chase over course and distance and Mad Moose ... with emphasis on the ‘mad’ unfortunately!
With Barry Geraghty taking the mount aboard Sprinter Sacre, AP McCoy was riding the other Nicky Henderson representative Finian’s Rainbow.
Sprinter Sacre was attempting two and a half miles over fences for the first time, but his pedigree suggested that he’d stay today’s distance, if not further. He started as the red-hot favourite, at odds of 1-3.
Being a Grade 1 race, this was the feature event of the day. Therefore having exited onto the racecourse, the runners were paraded in front of the stands before they headed to the starting gate, which was at the beginning of the back straight.
Then they were off. The field was led away by the front-running Cue Card, from Flemenstar, Sprinter Sacre, Finian’s Rainbow and For Non Stop. Now wise to the game, Mad Moose planted himself at the start and refused to race; he’d done it a couple of times this season already. Sam Twiston-Davies cantered him back to the ‘stable’ exit to leave the track. The five remaining runners continued on their journey along the back straight.
The horses cleared the fences with speed and accuracy; Cue Card reaching to clear the first open-ditch. Having jumped this fence, Noel Fehily in fifth place aboard For Non Stop glanced under his right arm to see whether there was a runner behind him. Er ... no, Mad Moose was taking an early bath!
Cue Card led the runners into the far bend, Flemenstar just a length behind, with Finian’s Rainbow matching strides to the inside of Sprinter Sacre a length further back; For Non Stop was three lengths behind the others.
There were no problems in the jumping department as the runners headed over the cross-fence; they then turned into the home straight on the first occasion. Ears pricked, Cue Card got a little close to the sixth fence which checked his momentum slightly, after which Flemenstar took a narrow advantage over the next, an open-ditch. The Irish raider remained half a length up as they jumped the fence in front of the stands and headed towards the lollipop with one circuit still to travel.
Having retained the inside berth, Cue Card went on again as the runners travelled around the grandstand bend and set off into the country once more. On the outside of the field, Sprinter Sacre cruised up to the quarters of Flemenstar as they jumped the first in the back straight; Finian’s Rainbow blundered here. Flemenstar led over the next. For Non Stop was now detached and struggling in rear.
Cue Card and Flemenstar disputed the lead over the open-ditch; Finian’s Rainbow then cruised up between them as they jumped the fourth and final obstacle in the back straight; Sprinter Sacre was a length down in fourth. AP McCoy sent his mount into the lead heading into the far turn and he jumped the cross-fence with a slight advantage.
But Joe Tizzard drove Cue Card to the front once more as they entered the home straight and set off for home. Sprinter Sacre followed him through and was upsides Finian’s Rainbow as they cleared three out; the latter sent pieces of birch flying. Barry Geraghty had yet to move a muscle as they approached the open-ditch and he cruised alongside Cue Card as they cleared it; Finian’s Rainbow was now struggling in third.
Sprinter Sacre then sailed into a clear lead as he galloped to the final fence and flew the jump 4 lengths ahead of his nearest rival. Barry Geraghty glanced beneath his right arm a couple of times to check for dangers on the run-in and, there being none, was able to ease his mount, winning by 4½ lengths at the line. Cue Card completed in 2nd, with Flemenstar keeping on to take 3rd, Finian’s Rainbow 4th and For Non Stop 5th.
NEWS FROM THE STEWARDS’ ROOM FOLLOWING THE RACE:
The Stewards held an enquiry following a report from the Starter that MAD MOOSE (IRE), ridden by Sam Twiston-Davies and trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies had refused to race. They interviewed the rider, the trainer and the Starter. Having heard their evidence and viewed recordings of the start the Stewards informed the trainer that future similar behaviour may result in the gelding being reported to the British Horseracing Authority.
WHY THEY RAN
I remained upon the terrace of the Earl Of Derby stand ahead of the next race, the Topham Chase over the Grand National fences.
That’s it for Part One of my Ladies Day diary ...